WORK has started on a £500,000 project to repair Chelmsford’s iconic Shire Hall.

The five month programme of repairs will see the 200-year-old former Magistrates’ Court building at the top of the High Street have its masonry fixed and repointed, its roof and gutters repaired, lead work replaced and windows overhauled.

It has been empty since April 2012 but had been open to the public until December 2012, when loose masonry sparked health and safety fears.

Ongar-based firm Noble and Taylor has been chosen to carry out the repairs, which had to be agreed with English Heritage. It is hoped work will be complete by the Autumn.

Cllr Dick Madden, an Essex County Council cabinet member and ward councillor, said: “I am delighted we are now in a position to proceed with essential maintenance works at Shire Hall to address the deterioration of its outer fabric.

“We have been determined to preserve and enhance the character of this much-loved listed building while always ensuring the health and safety of the public in and around the building.”

Patrick Foster, managing director of Noble and Taylor, added: “We know how important Shire Hall is to the local community and appreciate its key position in Chelmsford city centre. So we are thrilled to have been awarded the contract to repair it and will be working closely with Essex County Council.”